Analysis of a Productive Practice
Are You A Messy Office Person or A Clean Office Person?
If you’re like me, you’ve got dozens of irons in the fire at any given time. I’m busy with client work, job administration, ASA duties, personnel issues, sales and marketing, production, quality control, etc. I also maintain an open door policy at my office; that is, my office door is always open. It seems that whenever someone walks into my office, they hand me a piece of paper. What do I do with that paper? Depending on the nature of the information the paper contains, I put it in a particular pile. So, over the years, I have created many piles. There are piles on my desk, under my desk, on the side of my desk, in my desk drawers, and on my book shelves. To a passerby, it would seem that my office is “messy”. I have client file stacks, I have stacks of unread valuation and accounting magazines, and I have ASA piles on my credenza sorted by duty. Sometimes I have to put a sign on my door to let the cleaning crew know they shouldn’t vacuum my office because I have strategically placed files on the floor due to the size and complexity of the project I’m working on. I’ve seen other people’s offices and found a mixed bag of clean, somewhat messy but organized, and extremely messy offices. Cluttered is probably a better description for some offices.
There are “pilers”,” filers”, and “tossers”. Pilers organize papers by piling them on their desk. Filers file rather than pile, and tossers keep their desks spare and uncluttered. I pile, file, and toss as much as I can, but that doesn’t stop the continuous flow of papers and files that land on my desk daily. In an article I read on www.theglobeandmail.com, it posed a discussion based on the following question: Messy desks are a sign of: a) a creative, high-achieving, productive genius; or b) an unorganized, irresponsible, untrustworthy incompetent. A messy desk may imply you are not the kind of person who places neatness and organization over actual efficiency. On the other hand, have we lapsed into this culture where we believe that the messier we are, the busier we look?
A recent Forbes article, “The Dangers of a Messy Desk”, cited a survey where 57% of Americans admit they judge coworkers by how clean or dirty they keep their workspaces. Nearly half say they have been appalled by how messy a colleague’s office is and most chalk it up to pure laziness. The survey encourages the stereotype: if you are a slob at the office, you must be a slob in your real life. The article gives tips on how to not let the clutter get out of hand, such as: 1) set a weekly appointment to clean; 2) don’t make piles; 3) do not use your desktop as a storage space; 3) don’t put items on the floor; 4) eliminate digital clutter; and 5) disinfect regularly. All good tips, however, I don’t mean to sound cynical, but I am not going to set an “appointment” to clean my office – that would not go over well with the boss. Piles are necessary for people in our industry. Cleaning versus billing? I don’t think so. If I put things on the floor, it’s because there is no room for them on my desk. I don’t always have time to organize my digital files; documents get edited over and over again and sometimes you don’t want to save over previous versions. Disinfecting - I agree whole-heartedly with disinfecting. That is a must. Especially if you eat at your desk; keep it sanitary.
Does a clean office mean you are organized and efficient, or does it mean you are not working and an ineffective employee? I don’t think I have ever had a “clean” office. Even when I moved into a new office, I brought boxes of papers, files, and books, which ended up as papers, files and books out of the boxes and placed anywhere I didn’t need to walk to get to my desk. A German study said people tended to think more clearly when surrounded by mess, as they are forced to ‘simplify’ their thoughts to cope. Visual and mental clutter forces human beings to focus and think more clearly. I don’t know how messiness fosters clarity, as this doesn’t seem to parallel the chaos I have seen on the TV series “Hoarders”. On a random blog, I came across a post, “A director I once had was fond of saying ‘A clear desk is a clear mind’. That stopped when I responded with ‘An empty desk is an empty mind’.” Albert Einstein is said to be quoted, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?” Whatever camp you maintain – a messy office or a clean office – your office is your space to get things done, and as long as you are accomplishing that then I wouldn’t give it another thought.
Erin D. Hollis, ASA, AVA, CDBV
Valuation Advisory Services, LLC